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Behar-Bechukotai 5778-2018

Torah From Sinai

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The opening verses of parashat Behar, the first of this week’s combined parashiyot, Behar and Bechukotai, speak of the laws of Shemitah, שְׁמִטָּה , the commandment to let the land lie fallow and unworked during the sabbatical year that occurs every seven years, and during the Yovel,  יוֹבֵל, the Jubilee year, every 50 years.

The opening verse of parashat Behar, Leviticus 25:1, reads: וַיְדַבֵּר השׁם אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר, and the L-rd spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying. G-d tells Moses to speak to the Children of Israel and tell them that when they enter the land of Israel that He will give them, the land must observe a Sabbath rest for the L-rd. The people shall sow their fields for six years, prune their vineyards and gather in their crops. But the seventh year, shall be a complete rest for the land, “A Sabbath for the L-rd. Your field you shall not sow, and your vineyard you shall not prune.”

By leaving the fields untended and unguarded for a year, the Jews boldly demonstrate that the world belongs to G-d and that they are merely its caretakers (Behar-Bechukotai 5764-2004).

In one of his most famous comments, Rashi, inquires, “Why does the Torah mention that the mitzvah of Shemitah was given at Mount Sinai? Weren’t all the mitzvot given at Mount Sinai?” In response, Rashi answers, “Just as the mitzvah of Shemitah was given with all its details at Sinai, so were all the mitzvot given with all of their details at Mount Sinai.”

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, in his commentary on Chumash, responds that the mitzvah of Shemitah, of requiring the land to lie fallow, is proof that the Torah was actually given in full at Sinai, and therefore singularly poised to be held up as a mitzvah that the Children of Israel received in all its details at Sinai.

Rabbi Schwab argues that had the Torah been written by ancient scholars, as some suggest, the mitzvah of Shemitah would have been omitted. Mortals would have found this law, which requires the entire country’s crops to lie fallow for a full year, to be untenable. Even though allowing the land to rest provides many benefits, leaving all the fields barren during the same year leaves the people without sufficient food. More logical, would have been to allow different parcels of land to rest on different years, not all in the same year. Besides, says Rabbi Schwab, the idea to leave all the lands fallow for two consecutive years, as the Torah requires during the seventh year of Shemitah and the eighth year of Yovel, in the Jubilee year, could not be the product of the human mind.

Rabbi Schwab concludes that the only one who could possibly know that there would be abundant food in the sixth year to last through the seventh and eight years, is G-d Himself, and therefore only He could have conceived of a mitzvah such as this.

Therefore, says Rabbi Schwab, it is incontrovertible that this mitzvah was proclaimed by the L-rd Al-mighty Himself. It is the mitzvah of Shemitah that confirms that all the mitzvot and all the teachings of the Torah were given at Sinai along with all of their details.

I have often argued that if one wants to find G-d, the best place to look for Him is in the “book,” the Torah, which is reputed to have been given by G-d Himself at Sinai.

The Torah, which is the original source of so many revolutionary ideas that are fundamental to human life, could not possibly have been conceived by humans. Collectively, these revolutionary ideas form a compelling argument for the divinity of the Bible.

The idea of the Sabbath, a day of rest for humankind, the bold declaration, “Thou shalt not murder,” pronouncing the sanctity of life, the concept of not causing undue pain to animals, the revolutionary idea of guarding the environment, were all introduced over 3300 years ago in the Torah.

Most of these exalted ideas were either never considered or summarily rejected by all other ancient civilizations. Not muzzling an animal while it works in the field, returning a lost object of a friend or even an enemy, not eating the limb of an animal while it is still alive, the prohibition against human sacrifice, the pursuit of justice and righteousness in law, not favoring one litigant over the other, the concept of majority rules, of not speaking evil against a neighbor, of getting rid of one’s bodily waste in a sanitary manner–-all of these exalted ideas were not even a glimmer in the minds of other ancient civilizations.

The fact that the Torah (Deuteronomy 12:21), states that, “You shall slaughter the animals the way I have commanded you,” and yet there are no instructions found in the Torah, not only indicates that written words of the Torah are of Divine origin, but that an oral code of Divine origin, was given along with the written Torah at the same time. In fact, the written code, in many instances, can hardly be understood without the elucidation of the oral code.

3300 years ago, the Torah introduced to humanity the idea of monotheism, which not only mandates the worship of a single G-d, but also posits the indispensability of a single ethical system, with absolute values and absolute morality that cannot be changed or modified.

It was in this light that Judaism introduced the concept of the sanctity of life, the sanctity of property and the sanctity of marriage.

Other civilizations argued that resting on the Sabbath day was a waste of precious time, and that allowing the land to lie fallow was only for fools who wish to wreck the economy of their lands. Most ancient civilizations maintained a belief in a legal system that allowed for superior rights for nobles and inferior rights for slaves and serfs. Judaism, 3300 years ago, declared, Deuteronomy 10:19, וַאֲהַבְתֶּם אֶת הַגֵּר, You shall love the stranger. This commandment, which is repeated 36 times, more than any other commandment in the Torah, was a radical departure from all other contemporary ancient civilizations.

While it is impossible for a mortal to truly comprehend the Immortal, or for the finite to truly comprehend the Infinite, the astounding number of revolutionary ideas that are contained in the Torah, certainly make a compelling case for G-d’s existence, and serve as a powerful refutation of those who doubt G-d’s existence and the divinity of His Torah.

May you be blessed.